Chicago is steeped in traditions when it comes to the holidays. From families driving through neighborhoods to get a glimpse of holiday lights (did you see the one we created for TravelingMom, by the way?) to welcoming the season with the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, there is no shortage of things to do in the Midwest during the holiday season. Here are seven things to add to your holiday list if you’re traveling to Chicago.
Ever wanted to know how it feels to be inside a snow globe? Then head to Navy Pier, Chicago’s most-visited family destination, where visitors can step inside a 15-foot tall, life-sized snow globe that fits up to six people to get a really unique Chicago winter souvenir (through January 12). Also happening at the same time is the Annual Bank of America Winter Wonderfest where families can go ice skating, take a ride in an indoor Ferris wheel and slide down large inflatable slides. Afterward, head to the world-famous Billy Goat but make sure you ask for cheeps, not fries.
One of Chicago’s most beloved holiday traditions, Christkindlmarket is back again this year from November 26 – December 24. Christkindlmarket transforms Chicago’s Daley Plaza into a traditional German holiday market, with seasonal trinkets and delicious holiday treats such as authentic German fare like savory sausages and sweet. Live music entertains visitors while children can get their picture taken with Santa in his cabin. Admission is free.
One of my favorites when I was a child and now I take my own kids is the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World & Holiday of Lights exhibit happening through January 5. With more than 60 displays decorated by members of Chicago’s many ethnic communities, this annual celebration is a great way for kids young and old to see how cultures around the world celebrate the season. Skip the museum dining options and head into the neighborhood for a late lunch or early dinner. Medici on 57th Street in Hyde Park has peppermint shakes, Mexicana hot chocolate and floats topped with fresh whipped cream.
Visitors to Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoolights will be dazzled by more than one million twinkling lights that transform the zoo into a winter wonderland, complete with unique activities like live ice carvings and special holiday treats. In addition, visitors can take advantage of the zoo’s enchanting wildlife, with exhibits open late during Zoolights which continues through January 6. Afterward, head to RJ Grunts for hand-dipped shakes or malts. It’s kid-friendly and the kids will love the atmosphere.
Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle offers visitors a delightful interactive, outdoor exhibit with trees that respond to touch and sound, as well as vivid electric colors throughout the arboretum. Go ahead, hug a tree to watch it grow brighter or sing to watch it change color while walking along the paved path. Afterward, head to the Ginkgo Restaurant & Café for some hot cocoa and s’mores. Illumination is on through January 4.
The Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Garden has become a must-see Chicago holiday tradition for many families and welcomes visitors from November 29 – January 5. The event features a 10,000-square-foot exhibition of miniature trains winding through replicas of Chicago’s favorite landmarks. New additions this year include a miniature Stanley Cup to celebrate the Chicago Blackhawks, handmade wreaths for sale and ice sculpting competitions. Afterward, enjoy a snack or meal at the Garden Café located on the premises.
The Cuneo Museum and Gardens Holiday Light Show is a favorite Lake County holiday tradition and takes place now through January 4. The light show is Northern Illinois’ largest drive-through holiday light festival, with thousands of twinkling lights, animated displays and more. A walk through the mansion-museum reveals views of Christmases past.